Musings

Yom Kippur’s Slap In The Face

10/04/2011
Special To The Jewish Week

Human gestures are almost always ambiguous. A man with hands raised toward the sky could be praying, cheering or the victim of a hold up. Without the context and the intention, one cannot know.

So what are we doing when we beat our chests in the confessional of Yom Kippur? Is it self-punishment, an attempt through a long day to keep ourselves awake akin to slapping one’s own face, or perhaps ritual theater? 

The Soul Of Yom Kippur

09/27/2011

‘What do you do,” Mr K. was asked, “if you love someone?” “I make a sketch of that person,” said Mr. K., “and make sure that one comes to resemble the other.” “Which? The sketch?” “No,” said Mr. K., “the person.”

Striding Into The New Year

09/20/2011

Human attempts to peer into the future, to borrow a metaphor from philosopher J.L. Austin, are like a miner’s hat. A small area is illuminated in front of us so we can adjust our footing. Yet when we project far into the future, darkness reigns and the shadows deceive. The only way to know more of the future is to move forward; with each step the light advances and the next patch of ground becomes visible.

Striding Into The New Year

09/20/2011

Human attempts to peer into the future, to borrow a metaphor from philosopher J.L. Austin, are like a miner’s hat. A small area is illuminated in front of us so we can adjust our footing. Yet when we project far into the future, darkness reigns and the shadows deceive. The only way to know more of the future is to move forward; with each step the light advances and the next patch of ground becomes visible.

The Dance Of Love

09/13/2011

The Talmud in Ta’anit envisions the “future dance of the righteous.” In Alan Brill’s book “Thinking God,” about Rabbi Zadok of Lublin, he quotes Rabbi Zadok’s beautiful comment on this passage:

“The future dance of the righteous is because dancing occurs in a circle in which all are equal. … When everything is complete, then one will not need effort to love in one’s heart the creation, because then loving creation will be as natural as loving parts of one’s own body.”

In Honor Of The Victims Of 9/11

09/06/2011

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Musings gives itself over to Edna St. Vincent Millay’s 1928 poem, “Dirge with Music,” which balances loss and resolve.

Charity As Obligation

08/30/2011

The Midrash tells of Rabbi Joshua Ben Levi who went walking through the streets of Rome. There he saw the pillars of great buildings covered in tapestries so that they would not contract and split with variations of temperature. Along the same path he saw a poor man who was dressed in sackcloth. Rabbi Joshua noted the splendor with which buildings were covered and the poverty of people.

Hiding And Seeking

08/23/2011

You cannot understand a landscape, Claude Levi Strauss famously wrote in “Tristes Tropiques,” unless you know what lies beneath the surface. Deep structures explain the features we can see. Similarly, casual readers of the Bible cannot grasp its meaning unless they know the deep structure.

Spirit Of The Law

08/16/2011

The Israelites, having been slaves, are freed only to then receive God’s law. At first glance, this might seem to encumber them yet again. But slaves are subject not to law, but to will. The more law, the freer. Listen to R.W. Southern in his classic book “The Making of the Middle Ages” discuss the development of law:

Nature Calls

08/09/2011
Special To The Jewish Week

The 20th century saw many attempts to refashion the nature of human beings: Communism, eugenics, social Darwinism and others. Each resulted in catastrophe and tragedy. Much of the literature of totalitarianism — “1984,” “Brave New World,” “Darkness at Noon” — chronicles the horror of “perfecting” people or society.

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